Sticks and Stones Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEGThe tables were made of particleboard, six feet long with rounded corners and folding legs. Two men lugged them from the garage, one after the other, while an elderly woman in a robe supervised.

Mason watched the operation from his front porch step over his standard breakfast of ramen noodles and black coffee.

Once the tables were arranged on the front lawn in horseshoe formation, three more were situated in the driveway. Then the younger of the two men hefted a set of golf clubs and brought them out of the garage, followed by an acoustic guitar, followed by a sewing machine, followed by a stationary bike.

The elderly woman reappeared, robeless this time in a blue Adidas sweat suit with her platinum hair piled atop her head. Draped over her arm was a stack of dresses. She laid them out at one end of the horseshoe then hurried across the grass to help the older man who was struggling with a cardboard box.

Books, records, CDs, toasters, paintings, Tupperware, clothing, furniture. By the time the first car arrived, the entire front yard was filed with merchandise. But it was the last item — carried out of the garage by the two men and dropped next to a table in the driveway — that brought Mason to his feet: a Craftsman tool set.

As he hurried across the street he noticed other neighbors closing their doors and heading for the yard sale. The older man had retired to a chair on the front porch and was lighting a Sherlock Holmes pipe. Mason made a beeline for him.

โ€œHow much for the tools?โ€

โ€œGood question,โ€ he said in a cloud of smoke. โ€œYouโ€™ll have to ask the proprietress.โ€

Mason wondered what was in the pipe. โ€œWhoโ€™s that?โ€

He nodded toward the older woman. โ€œMy wife.โ€

She was making last-second adjustments behind the horseshoe, straightening stacks of books, arranging Velcro balls on a dartboard, brushing dust from a stereo speaker.

โ€œExcuse me, maโ€™am, Iโ€™d like to buy the tools.โ€

โ€œOne hundred dollars,โ€ she trilled.

He reached in his pocket and pulled out a bill.

โ€œSold,โ€ she said, sticking it in her bra.

Cars were pulling curbside and people were now wandering between tables.

She sidled up next to him. โ€œYouโ€™re Ava Fosterโ€™s son, arenโ€™t you?โ€

He didnโ€™t answer.

โ€œThought so,โ€ she said. โ€œI wasnโ€™t here when all the trouble happened. I bought this house just after your father died. But I heard the rumors.โ€

He picked up a camouflage jacket. โ€œHow much?โ€

โ€œThree dollars.โ€

He tried it on.

โ€œHey Fran,โ€ said a redhead in tight jeans and sunglasses as she browsed past.

โ€œGood morning, Tammy โ€ฆ so sweet,โ€ then in a low voice to Mason, โ€œand so trashy. Youโ€™ll see, sheโ€™s your next-door neighbor. Itโ€™s hard to keep up with all the different men coming in and out of that house. But all we can do is pray for her.โ€

Mason handed her three dollars and left the jacket on.

โ€œThe man over there talking to my son, Wayne Campbell, heโ€™s the assistant principal at the middle school. He was going to AA meetings but then his wife left him. Poor thing.โ€

โ€œIs that a sleeping bag?โ€

โ€œMm hmmm, eight dollars. Iโ€™m Fran, by the way. Fran Vickers, president of the homeowners association and,โ€ big smile, โ€œhead of the neighborhood crime watch.โ€

He glanced down the road toward the Magic Mart. Dot was making her way across the parking lot to the bus stop. The thought of beer was suddenly enticing.

Fran followed his gaze but her eyes settled instead on the family of Muslims in the driveway of the corner house. โ€œOh donโ€™t you worry about them. I keep the sheriffโ€™s office informed of all their little activities,โ€ she said. โ€œI also put Bible tracts in their mailbox. Hey, you never know.โ€

Mason nodded, relieved not to be the lone target of suspicion on the street. โ€œIs this table and chairs for sale?โ€

โ€œFifty for the set. My son can help you take it across the street.โ€

Mason was reaching in his pocket for the cash when a halter-topped blonde whisked by in a gust of perfume. โ€œNo Maddy, we are not buying any golf clubs.โ€ An indignant little girl struggled to keep up. โ€œYou always tell me no.โ€ A thin, bifocaled boy who seemed to double-take at Masonโ€™s new jacket, continued to look back at him as they marched down the sidewalk.

โ€œThatโ€™s Brooke Tyler,โ€ said Fran. โ€œSheโ€™s a widow. Her husband was killed in Afghanistan. So sad. I think she has trouble managing her children.โ€

He passed her the fifty dollars. Her bra was filling up.

โ€œI didnโ€™t catch your name.โ€

โ€œItโ€™s Mason.โ€

โ€œWell listen, Mason,โ€ she sneered in the direction of his house. โ€œAre you planning on doing anything with that eyesore over there?โ€

โ€œIโ€™m not sure I understand what you mean.โ€

โ€œNo? Look at those missing shingles and that slime mold on the siding.โ€

โ€œI kinda think it gives it an old, rustic look.โ€

She frowned, unimpressed. โ€œIt is nowhere near the standards of the homeowners association. Just look at that grass. I bet it hasnโ€™t been mowed in ages. Unacceptable.โ€

He smiled politely. What was unacceptable was her talking to him like she was a prison guard. But he bit his tongue. No sense pissing off the homeowners association and the neighborhood watch in one conversation.

โ€œHow much is that lawn mower over there?โ€

She waved a hand. โ€œSeventy-five dollars.โ€

โ€œDoes the gas can come with it?โ€

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